Support for Israel in the U.S. Jewish community continues to erode

US Politics

BADIL, in its newspaper Haq alawda, published a special issue on the Israeli war on Gaza and requested an article from the authors on the growing organizing being done by Jewish Americans in opposition to the brutal assault on the Palestinian people of Gaza. The article, written by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark and Donna Nevel at the end of the summer, was published in Arabic in Haq alawda newspaper, issue no 59, September 2014.  The link to the Arabic piece is here, and below is the original piece in English.  (The authors note that the piece was written before the Open Hillel conference held mid-October in Cambridge, MA. The conference brought together hundreds of students across the US to challenge the rigid political litmus test on Palestine and Israel imposed by Hillel and the mainstream Jewish community.) 

Since the inception of the Zionist movement at the end of the 19th century right on up to today, there have always been Jews who took issue with particular aspects of –or even the very idea of– a Jewish nation-state in historic Palestine. The recent Israeli bombardment of and incursion into Gaza – what Israel called “Operation Protective Edge” – saw a new surge in Jewish-American opposition to Israeli practices and policies. While this activism stands on a many-layered foundation of more than half-a-century of organizing in the US – especially from 1967 forward –it reveals some new and heartening trends.

These developments can be seen in stepped-up on-the-ground activism, the widening scope of the discourse around what is at issue, and even in the increasing cracks in the once-solid attitudes of liberal Zionists. All of these factors emerge, of course, within a wider U.S. (and indeed, international) movement and context.

It’s no surprise that in the urgent moment of a crisis like “Operation Protective Edge,” already-established groups working for justice in Palestine/Israel, would be ready and able to mobilize, and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), founded in 1996, did just that.  On top of their on-going work to expand U.S. and Jewish-American engagement through grassroots, media, and other campaigns (including playing a significant role in promoting the June decision of the Presbyterian Church USA to divest $21 million from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard, companies that enable the occupation), JVP mobilized members and supporters to respond immediately to the assault in Gaza, with street demonstrations and civil disobedience protests in dozens of cities, and on-line petitions, lobbying letters, and participatory social media projects. So, too, did several other groups — among them, Jews Say No!,  Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, International Jewish Anti-Zionist network (IJAN) — organize and participate in a range of actions and public protests in the streets and on the web.  Also on the web, one can find particularly hard hitting commentary and reporting by some Jewish bloggers and news sites, such as Mondoweiss.

What was less expected was the enormous swell in interest in these groups as well as the launching of new ones. During “Protective Edge” JVP reported a jump of 50,000 in their email list over a four-week period, and a tripling of its Facebook “likes” to 184,000. The organization could barely keep up with the requests for new chapters all over the US — 18 new groups are under-way.  Meanwhile, the new formation, #IfNotNow (taking its name from a famous moral call from the 1st-Century Jewish sage and scholar, Hillel), came onto the scene through social media, and quickly held an action, which included civil disobedience, at the New York office of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, where they recited the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning, for the victims of the violence in Gaza and recited their names. In their letter to the head of the Conference, Malcolm Hoenlein, who refused to speak with them, they said they were “outraged that so many speak of Palestinians as if their lives were worth less than our own, outraged at the justifications offered for the killing of so many.”

While changing attitudes toward Israel are visible among people of all ages, younger Jews are at the top of the list. Last year’s Jewish Population Survey, tallying views and practices of American Jews, showed a steady decline by age among those who regard themselves as “very attached to Israel”: 38 percent among Jews over 65 and only 25 percent among Jews between 18 and 29. (Such changes are seen in Americans in general, not only among Jews. Polls conducted by the Pew Research Center and Gallop in late July 2014 found that 55 percent of those over age 65 considered Israel’s actions in Gaza justified, while only 25 percent of those between 18 and 29 concurred.)

While the numbers of Jews engaged in critical protest against occupation is growing, their demands are changing, too. Previous outpourings of Jewish activism often took place under the banner of “two states.” While today’s activists have a range of views, it is no longer a given that a “two-state solution” is a consensus position — nor even a real possibility given the vast expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. While this summer’s protests necessarily focused on the current bombing campaign, many also have addressed underlying, fundamental issues: the siege of Gaza, the Occupation, and the  Nakba and Palestinian refugee Right of Return.  (The recently launched Nakba Education Project U.S.  (NEP) has received many requests for resources from activists and educators.) JVP and many Jewish activists recognize that these issues must be in the forefront as part of the longer-term, sustained organizing work as partners in the broader movement for justice.

The Palestinian-led call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) is a critical part of this ongoing work. In fact, many of the civil disobedience actions across the country have targeted companies that profit from the occupation. In Seattle, JVP and Queers Against Israeli Apartheid blocked the entrance to Boeing’s defense factory while other protesters staged a die-in and read the names of Palestinians who had been killed. JVP activists were also arrested inside the headquarters of Boeing in Chicago. Boeing, listed in 2012 as the second biggest arms supplier worldwide, has sold Israel F-15A fighter jets and Apache AH 64 helicopters currently being used in attacks on Gaza.

While our own hearts and bodies are with these activists and with radical analysis, it’s also important to acknowledge a significant shift within Jewish-American liberal Zionism that has become evident this summer. High-placed liberal pundits who could always be counted on to support Israel in times of perceived crisis — Roger Cohen of the New York Times, Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine, Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic, to name only a few — have been writing of their unease and even alarm over Israeli violence against Gazans and over the decline within Israel of what they regard as Jewish and as democratic values. These commentators always make a point of couching their critiques within assurances that they love and support Israel. Nonetheless, as they have witnessed an Israeli government that clearly has had no interest in pursuing peace with the Palestinians and that has tolerated blatant calls for ethnic cleansing (and worse) within its ranks, and seen how even the mildest dissent within Israel has been squelched, they have had to grapple with the contradiction in their abiding belief in a state that can be ethnocratically Jewish and a democracy.

For activists who long stopped believing in — or never did believe in — this sentimental Zionism, such rhetoric can grate; the writers seem to be disturbed more by the discomfort of their cognitive dissonance than by the actual suffering of Palestinians. Even so, that they are revealing the contradiction in mainstream publications at the very least reveals the cracks in the bedrock of liberal Jewish-American support for Israel — and maybe even widens them.

At the same time, The Forward, the national Jewish newsweekly, has published some critical news reports and analyses. For example the longtime columnist J. J. Goldberg had no compunctions about stating that, to gin up public support for the crackdown against Hamas and for war, the Netanyahu government lied about the status of the three Israeli boys who had been kidnapped; and the paper regularly publishes the even sharper graphic commentary by the cartoonist Eli Valley. Limited, yes, but still strong signs that the discourse is changing.

One thing the history of left Jewish activism in the US might caution us against is making too much of the swelling ranks of Jewish-Americans speaking out against Israeli violence. The first intifada saw an unprecedented rise in anti-occupation organizing, by groups all over the country. Again, during the second intifada, Jews took to the streets and their local editorial pages throughout the US. And so it has gone with each escalation of hostilities: the mainstream Jewish organizations close ranks; the opposition gears up.

But, in fact, we believe this time has been different because of both the dramatic jump in numbers and on-the-ground, sustained organizing and in the greater willingness of U.S. Jews to address core issues like the Nakba and Right of Return. Groups like JVP are working consistently as allies with the Palestinian-led movement for justice, and participating whole-heartedly in campaigns for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). With their greater numbers, Jewish groups are also in a better position to work with allies (such as the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation) to challenge the influence of the Israel Lobby (AIPAC, the even more numerous Christian Zionists and the arms industry).

We of course know that the work to change US policy remains enormous. Within ten days of the launch of “Protective Edge,” the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution supporting Israel.  And on August 1st, the U.S. Congress voted $225 million in emergency funding for Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense (unanimously in the Senate and 395-8 in the House of Representatives). But, just a few days ago, the White House announced that they are reviewing all the Department of Defense arms shipments to Israel. A very small beginning, but definitely movement in a positive direction.

As the discourse changes and unquestioning Jewish support for Israel continues to erode – both for its policies and for its status as an ethnocratic state– there’s reason for optimism. But the ongoing work of Jewish groups standing with, and participating in the growing call for BDS and other efforts to achieve justice, equality, and human rights for the Palestinian people, as well as for a US foreign policy committed to these principles, remains more important and more challenging than ever.

About Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark and Donna Nevel

Both Donna Nevel and Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark are members of Jewish Voice for Peace and Donna serves on the JVP board. They are also members of the coordinating committee of The Nakba Education Project, U.S., and Donna is a founding member of Jews Say No!

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12 Responses

  1. MRW
    November 18, 2014, 1:17 pm

    The Huffington Post headline for the people shot in the synagogue in Jerusalem screams, “MASSACRE IN JERUSALEM.” All caps. It was red. They’ve dialed it back to black. Six killed?

    Never a headline like that for the deaths of civilians in Palestine last summer. Not once.

    • just
      November 18, 2014, 11:59 pm

      +1.

      The Guardian article was screaming in red with open comments and updates all day…………

      • just
        November 19, 2014, 12:04 am

        i’m hopeful that things are changing, but:

        “Rula Jebreal [email protected]

        List of Israelis on CNN today Dersh​owitz​ -twice ​Michael ​Oren. ​Ron ​Prosor ​Mark ​Regev ​Nir ​Barakat M. Rosenfeld Palestinians​:​ 0”

        https://twitter.com/rulajebreal/status/534856130150027264

      • seafoid
        November 19, 2014, 5:23 am

        Just

        What was most striking about the comments I read on the guardian article was how few bought the hasbara.

        I have been reading comments on the Guardian since 2001 and there is a huge change now with ordinary posters who don’t necessarily give much thought to the IP issue really coming out against Zionism and its lies.

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius
        November 19, 2014, 8:04 am

        seafoid,

        You are right that the hasbarists are fewer in number in The Guardian than they used to be.

        Ironically, however, the paper itself has become far more cowardly on I/P issues than it used to be. They have openly acknowledged that they have been targetted by CiF Watch, the Israeli embassy and various others, and it’s very obvious that they have modified their coverage – or lack of coverage – to pander to the above. No doubt their ambitions to expand in the USA also plays a role on their ‘no bad news from Palestine’ policy.

        They were OK during the Gaza war – not ‘pro Palestinian’, simply reporting the facts which were of course damning to Israel. They also held back on their usual absurd censorship of comments below the line. However, since then it’s back to business as usual. Virtually no mention of Palestinian deaths, and headline coverage for the much rarer Israeli deaths. See for example their highly emotive editorial last night, which never even bothered to make any mention of the broader context, and wrung its hands over ”Palestinian incitement”.

        The Guardian is not distinguishable from the New York Times these days. The good thing is that readers now have other options, and are taking the Guardian to task on their blatant bias.

      • just
        November 19, 2014, 9:24 am

        “What was most striking about the comments I read on the guardian article was how few bought the hasbara.”

        true. many commenters brought up this summer’s massacre, the incitement by GoI, the rank hypocrisy, and the Occupation… the mods had a hard time keeping up.

    • Kay24
      November 19, 2014, 10:17 am

      I noticed that too. They kept showing the blood the entire day….the over 2000 Palestinian were not given that attention.

      • eljay
        November 19, 2014, 10:40 am

        >> Kay24: They kept showing the blood the entire day….the over 2000 Palestinian were not given that attention.

        That’s because Palestinians don’t bleed – they only hate. And that’s why you see what you see in the media.

    • Ellen
      November 20, 2014, 2:35 am

      That is mass media click bate with screaming headlines. The “information” industry does not exist to inform, but to get reader traffic, no matter what. And as is acknowledged, Jewish lives get more attention than “the other.” It is all about attention.

      As an aside and fwiw, MJ Rosenberg has publicly stated is is NOT a Zionist. While some may consider him a fringe “leftist liberal,” I would bet that his sentiments reflect the majority of North Americans who identify with Judaism.

  2. seafoid
    November 19, 2014, 9:41 am

    What is really significant about this attack is that the perpetrators came from East Jerusalem, part of the indivisible eternal capital of Judistan. Normally with an attack of this type the bots would trash the West Bank since the attackers usually come from the West Bank but now East Jerusalem is fighting . This was not the case in 2000-2004.

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.627118

    “Recent attacks in Jerusalem, including the spate of vehicular attacks and the shooting of Yehuda Glick, have all been perpetrated by residents of Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods. They were all young men with blue Israeli ID cards who worked near their chosen targets and knew the areas well.
    Unlike Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 – when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent Israeli forces into the Palestinian Authority’s cities to strike headquarters and facilities of militant organizations – there are no obvious targets for Israel to strike in Palestinian East Jerusalem.”

    I was thinking of that “dead nigger” photo of the Palestinian the IDF shot on the roof of his home recently, which was all over the Israeli media – the language of Jewish domination and nobody fucks with the Jews.

    Well, the Palestinians can play that game too. And Bibi can’t do much to stop it.

  3. CigarGod
    November 19, 2014, 9:44 am

    In my little town in wyoming, we have a one man redneck radio station and npr beamed in my a series of towers from hundreds of miles away. Liberals outnumbered 10 to 1. That is the party breakdown. There is no difference of opinion between them on the subject of muslims. They don’t know anything on the topic, but they have memorized what they hear…and parrot it on command.

  4. chuckcarlos
    November 19, 2014, 8:56 pm

    nahhh?

    a society without equal protection under the law

    a society based on racism

    a society totally based on support from jews from NY

    a religious state

    losing american support?

    nahhh, don’t believe it

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